Pay It Forward: Can Being “Nice” Be HEALTHY Too? The Science Behind Selflessness

Today is National “Pay It Forward” Day. This initiative encourages all of us to do one good deed for 1 to 3 other people, expecting nothing in return. You could pay for a stranger’s food or coffee at a drive-thru, buy an extra Christmas gift for a child in need, leave an anonymous gift in a hospital waiting room, check on an elderly neighbor, volunteer for the day, or take dinner to a sick friend or new mom. Visit a nursing home, children’s hospital, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Of course, the Arthritis Foundation always has volunteer opportunties, too!!

If you’re not well enough to get out and do any of these things, there are so many causes and initiatives to which you can donate to or take part in online to “pay it forward.”

So what does it mean?

Living with arthritis and other chronic illness or disability isn’t always puppydogs, rainbows, and butterflies – but we can improve our quality of life just by being kind to others! (As Ellen DeGeneres always says, “Be Kind To One Another!”)

Of course, doing good deeds now and then is good for the soul. Gratitude and generosity are part of positive living which can dramatically increase our overall wellness, helping us on our paths to optimal health.

While many people would dismiss this notion as quackery, touchy-feely girl stuff, or being overly spiritual – guess what – there’s scientific evidence that “being nice” is not only good for the soul, but it is HEALTHY for you, too!

A new study done at the University of California “challenges our long-held belief that humans are hard-wired to be selfish.”  This isn’t necessarily true! Researchers involved in this study say that Darwin believed that “humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits,” rather than the widely-accepted interpretation of Darwinism that is an “every man for himself” theory. The study states that  hard science is showing that “the human capacity to care is mechanically wired into our brains and nervous systems.”

These scientists believe that the idea of selflessness could be the key to a longer life.

While this notion would make sense from a religious or spiritual standpoint, it might be surprising for many of you to learn that there is actual medical and scientific evidence to prove it on a more quantifiable level.

Selfless people  - including volunteers and caregivers – appear to be “rewarded” with greater life longevity.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Stephanie Brown, associate professor of preventive medicine at SUNY-Stony Brook, followed a group of older adults caring for family members with dementia and other illnesses. If they offered care more than 14 hours a week, they were less likely to die in a seven-year period than their peers.”

As I’ve mentioned in past entries, being grateful can also be healing. It creates positive thoughts which increase endorphins in the body – and these endorphins are medically-proven natural pain relievers! (They are also released during exercise!)

Recent academic studies that being grateful and selfless or generous go hand-in-hand, and also create a healthier mind-body connection….and if it won’t reduce your physical pain, it will at least help you cope with the emotional struggles that go along with chronic illness, in addition to reducing stress!

Yes, it is December 1st and the Holiday Season is in full swing….but, we should practice selflessness at all times of year, and not just at Thanksgiving or the winter holidays. It can’t hurt, and will help others while helping ourselves, too! After all, if you “pay it forward,” you never know what will come back to you – and the prospect of a longer life? That sounds like a pretty good deal, too!

Many may then question, if this is all true, how a nice person could be stricken with illness if being kind is, in fact, healthy. Well just think: that person’s condition(s) may be much worse off if they WEREN’T a positive and/or selfless person! Food for thought ♥

Leave a comment and tell us how you’re “doing good” or “paying it forward!”  We’d love to hear the effects that this positive experiences have had on you physically, mentally, or emotionally! After all, health is about ALL components of our being – mind, body, and spirit!

Let’s Move Together towards a happier and healthier life!

Thanks for reading…and stay warm! :)

Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes

PS: Looking for an easy way to Pay It Forward? Simply text the word ACTION to 27722 from your cell phone to donate $10 to the Arthritis Foundation, Mid Atlantic Region’s Million Dollar Campaign for Arthritis! Learn more here.

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